cover image The Kingdom of Childhood

The Kingdom of Childhood

Rebecca Coleman. Mira, $15.95 trade paper ISBN 978-0-7783-1278-9

Coleman (Desperado City) creates a stark psychological drama in this charged story of a sexual relationship between a teacher and an underage student. Suburban Maryland 40-something Judy McFarland is married to "a cranky old asshole," dotes on her high school senior son, and teaches kindergarten at the humanistic-oriented Sylvania Waldorf School, where she supervises 16-year-old Zach Patterson as he fulfills his service hours requirement at the school's woodworking shop. Soon Judy embarks on a tryst with the compliant Zach, and as thoughts of the potential legal consequences of their clandestine relationship weigh on her, Judy comes unhinged and her sexual predations grow more pathetic, even brutish. Meanwhile, flashbacks fill in Judy's childhood spent in Germany, where early traumas—unwell mother, philandering father—took root, though it's unclear whether these are intended to justify or illuminate. As Judy's life barrels toward a dark end, it becomes a chore for the reader to remain sympathetic to her increasingly drastic plight. It's dark, fast-moving, and, for the most part, nicely creepy with a solid noirish vibe, though Judy's transition from a Mrs. Robinson figure to something much more maniacal is a bit of a stretch. (Oct.)